Levels and Lexiles and AR … Oh My!

[Warning: this post is not nearly as much fun as a good Time Warp Trio book, but it might be helpful to teachers, librarians, and parents.]

Because I include the lexile and Accelerated Reader (AR) levels for books I review (when available), I get a LOT of hits to my blog from people searching for books at a particular reading level or the level of a particular book.   I do that because many schools use those systems to help kids find books that are a good match for their reading level.

Before I discuss what AR and lexile levels mean, however, here are two quick and easy links for checking the level of a particular book, or finding books at a particular level:

www.arbookfind.com  — Enter any book title and get the AR book level and point value, if available.  Note this does not necessarily mean your school will have the test for this book, only that one is available.  (This site belongs to Renaissance Learning, the AR company.)

www.lexile.com — Plug any book title into the “Quick Search” box at the top of the page and get its lexile level, if available.  (This site belongs to MetaMetrics, the lexile company.)

Much easier than scrounging around my blog.  Now for more detail.  There are two important things to realize about both these measures:

1) They are computer-generated estimates of the reading level of a book, based solely on selected variables in the text — the kinds of things a computer can count.  They do not evaluate the book’s subject, content, plot complexity, or redundancy (explaining things multiple ways).   For example, Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events books frequently introduce unusual vocabulary, then proceed to explain it creatively.

2) They are computer-generated estimates of the reading level of a book.  Doubtless a book at AR 5.5 is going to be more challenging to read than one at AR 2.5.  But the difference between a 2.5 and a 2.7 is probably not going to be noticed by anyone but the computer.  Consequently, these measures are useful  as a general guideline — but burdensome if applied restrictively.

I’ve had students in the library tell me that, for the purposes of getting their required AR points, they MUST read books within a certain narrow span of reading levels.  Now they may have misinterpreted their teacher’s recommendation to look for books “AROUND level 3.2” as “AT level 3.2”; regardless, when I ask “What kind of book are you looking for?” they respond with a number, rather than terms like “fantasy,” “mystery,” “snakes,” or whatever they’re really interested in.

And the computer cannot, of course, consider a child’s interest in a book’s subject or familiarity with its content as part of a series.  A boy passionate about dinosaurs may happily tackle a book with words like “pachycephalosaurus” and “cretaceous” without any difficulty.  And one who enjoys the popular Magic Tree House series — starting with the early books at AR level 2.6 — will probably not have trouble with the later books at 3.9 or 4.0 because he’s already familiar with the characters, plot elements, and Mary Pope Osborne’s writing style.

As educator and librarian Michael Sullivan states in his book, Connecting Boys with Books: Closing the Reading Gap: “Children do not read to their reading level.  Children read to their interest level” (p. 41).  So look for what interests your child FIRST, and then use AR or lexile scores to guide you to books that might be a good match within a RANGE of reading levels.

For more detailed discussion, I highly recommend chapter 4 of Sullivan’s book (mentioned above), “The Tyranny of Reading Levels.”  You can check my reviews of concepts from his book here and here.  And check here for a good balanced presentation of what reading levels mean and how to properly use them from MetaMetrics (the lexile people).


3 responses to “Levels and Lexiles and AR … Oh My!

  1. Bravo, John; well-said!!

  2. I’m tackling this nightmare for my own boys. You’re right, it is tyrannical. I’m sticking with ‘interest’ rather than lexiles.

  3. This is awesome advice. My kids tested at a 2.4-3.4, but getting her to read anything at that level has been like pulling teeth at the not-fun dentist. But she’s been plowing through Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, at a much higher level, because they interest her.

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